City Council Notes–26 September

Good morning Salem! It was a relatively easy meeting, so there isn’t a ton to report. We gave public testimony, and since this is our soapbox, I’ll include it here:

We noticed that Councilor Turiel is seeking to amend Section 10 of the Rules and Order of the City Council to delete the requirement to rise while addressing the body. While we realize this has been put forth as a way to remedy the microphone situation, we are fully in favor of this change, or any change, that will create a more welcoming and equal environment in city government. In fact, while modifying Section 10, you may way want to consider replacing “Madame/Mister President” with “Council President” to neutralize the tone and create more equality. In March of this year, this body had determined to review the rules in their entirety, and we thought we would use this proposed amendment to remind the council that there are still many changes needed and to encourage a full review of the rules with a goal of creating an inclusive and efficient body.

Christine Lutts from the Friends of Greenlawn Cemetery gave a presentation about their efforts to renovate the Dixon chapel and designate the cemetery as an arboretum. A couple of fun facts about this wonderful respite located in the heart of North Salem: they have an impressive collection of trees (and you can identify them on your stroll along the grounds using their digital map) and over 120 species of birds have been sighted on the premises. They are collaborating with the city and SSU to become a fully accredited arboretum. They are a historic and ecologically important part of the city and if you are interested in learning more, please click the links above.

The Council approved everything pertaining to the General Election: the date, polling locations and hours of operation, and the positions that will be listed on the ballot. Remember to register by 16 October so you can vote in the election, and hop over to our Voter Toolbox for information about your polling place and your candidates.

An amendment to allow the City Council the authority to display flags in addition to the mayor passed without incident. This followed on last council’s meeting, where there was a heated discussion about a proposed flag-raising and subsequently it raised the issue that the Council did not have the authority to determine what flags are flown, even though they had been doing so for years.

The proposal by Turiel to remove “shall rise” from the rules and orders was held until the next meeting.

There were a lot of Halloween parking motions and votes: additional parking options in the garage for downtown residents; higher rates in the Church Street lots for non-residents; parking restrictions on 75 streets around Salem

Councilor Milo introduced a request for a public meeting to explore affordable housing and public parking on the Church Street lot. This caused some confusion, because it is unusual for the City Council to drive discussions about development. The Salem Redevelopment Authority (SRA) has ownership of the lot, and has conducted numerous surveys and explorations regarding downtown development. SRA reports that include their priority efforts through fiscal year 2020 have focused their efforts on rehabilitating the courthouses first. Those projects are moving forward. Councilor Madore, the liaison to the SRA, had not heard of any plans to consider the Church Street lot and noted that the focus should be broader than one lot. She also noted that the SRA has a good track record for handling requests for development in the downtown and always were conscientious about bringing in the public. The main question here in my mind was: is the council staying in their lane? No one who spoke was in disagreement about the need for affordable housing, the objections to Milo’s proposed meeting was that it was outside the authority of the council. The vote passed with two amendments: first that the SRA be invited to the meeting (McCarthy) and second that it be held at the Community Life Center (Milo). Councilors Madore, Peterson, and Furey voted against.

Milo then requested that the planning board provide the council a report with the number of condo conversions from 2012.

There were several passages for handicapped parking, which provides us once again to lobby the council to PLEASE remove this from your remit. The traffic and parking commission is well able to handle these requests expeditiously. At present, the requirements to receive a handicap parking permit are so onerous that last night an “emergency temporary measure” had to be passed because the process would take too long to benefit the family seeking the permit. In addition to the need for two passages, the councilors have to publicly air personal medical details about families. The current process is invasive and inefficient.

The decision to expand the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) was left in committee, despite urges from Madore and Peterson to move it forward for a final vote and passage. Councilor Dominguez, chair of the Community and Economic Development Committee, noted that the committee had “questions,” though he did not expand. Madore said this expansion would add a tool to the affordable housing kit and pressed that it was not a mandate.

Respectfully submitted, Jen Lynch